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Is the Brain a Product of Consciousness? - comment on 3 major weaknesses in paper

Razumikhin2018 1 / 2 3  
Sep 16, 2018   #1
English 102
Professor Akers

ENG102: Research Paper Guidelines
Your research paper should be 8-10 pages, double-spaced, and formatted in MLA style.

Your research paper should be organized around a central thesis. This thesis should be
based on the research question that has focused your search efforts thus far in the class.


Is the Brain a Product of Consciousness?

Whereas most people think that consciousness is a byproduct of brain activity, it is possible that the brain is actually a byproduct of consciousness. Let me start with describing the materialistic paradigm versus the idealistic paradigm. Materialism holds that matter is the fundamental structure of reality, and biology and consciousness are just happy accidents in a universe of molecules, atoms, protons, quarks, and quantum fields. Physics is the name of the game, and there are four forces which describe how all matter behaves: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force (which holds the nuclei of all atoms together), and the weak nuclear force (which allows protons to change into neutrons, and vice versa). The first two forces are long distance, and the second two forces only act within the nuclei of atoms. These forces have elementary particles associated with them, which arise from quantum fields (the most fundamental of all building blocks). These particles and their respective quantum fields are as such: gravitons (gravitational field), photons (electromagnetic field), colored gluons (strong nuclear field), and weak gluons (weak nuclear field). Oh, and I forgot one thing: even though those four fields are the most fundamental, there is one field that permits them all to have mass-the Higgs field. So the age-old question of whether matter ultimately breaks down to particles or waves has finally been answered: it's essentially both, but beneath particles and waves are the fundamental quantum fields. This is the story of physics-the story of matter-the story of rigorous science. But all of this is missing a crucial point. In the Annals of the New York Academy of Science, Wolf Singer discusses how experiments with consciousness always encounter the same issue-that is, the experimenters assume they can analyze consciousness from an external perspective, but don't realize that all their observations only have one place to appear: their own field of consciousness (Singer).

To understand the idealistic paradigm, the first thing to realize is that matter has never existed without an observer. In order to have the thought that the universe started with a Big Bang 14 billion years ago, there has to be an individual consciousness in which all this information appears. The only thing that really exists is the present moment. Notice that when you think about the Big Bang and all that time which has passed since it occurred, what's really going on is a thought is forming within your mind, and your attention is completely immersed in it. The Big Bang doesn't actually "exist"-only the thought of it does. And that thought is occurring now in the present moment. This is not to say that the Big Bang never occurred. What I'm saying is that it is a surface level phenomenon which doesn't have as much significance as people think. When the Big Bang happened, it happened in the present moment. All the expansion of the universe and the evolution of species which followed also happened in the present moment. String all those present moments together and you might come up with a compelling, attention-grabbing explanation for the universe, but that's all it is-an explanation-a conceptual construct. And it is, indeed, grabbing your attention away from something much deeper-that is, attention itself.

The best analogy is the movie and the screen. A movie playing on a screen is merely pixels and images. It may capture the attention, form a logical and coherent story, and generate all sorts of emotions and thoughts in the viewer, but all that is essentially an illusion occurring on the only thing that is real: the screen. Similarly, your life is not a story. Your mind turns it into a story. Your life is also not all the physical things you experience, including your body. These are all appearances which could not exist or be observed without the fundamental reality-the formless screen of consciousness. But in the same way that people can become so engrossed in a movie that they forget it's just images on a screen, most people have never experienced pure consciousness because their attention has constantly been trained on the external world and their life circumstances and rarely, if ever, turns back onto attention itself.

Writing for the journal Spirituality Studies, Gejza Timčák offers a unique perspective of consciousness from Ramesh Balsekar, a student of the Indian sage Nisargadatta Maharaj. In the article, Timčák shares Balsekar's take on the mind-how it is essentially a problem-making machine which will overcomplicate any situation. He illuminates Balsekar's concept of submission, and how to really break free from the illusion of a separate self among physical objects, one has to completely submit their free will to God, or infinite consciousness. When one does this, according to Balsekar, the mind stops making problems and simply allows the present moment to be as it is (Timčák).

The essence of the idealistic paradigm is that the hierarchy of reality is as such: fundamentally, there is The Absolute (no consciousness or sense of being); followed by the universal field of consciousness (pure being with no sense of location); followed by individuated consciousness (pure being with a sense of location); and finally, matter in all its subtle and gross forms, including identification with the body. What I really am (and what everyone really is) is what existed before my body was born, but this has no sense of "me as opposed to you"-"subject as opposed to object." The sense of individuality came in several years after my body was born when my consciousness began to identify with this physical body which it has voluntary control over as opposed to other physical bodies over which it has no control. For most people, once this identification begins at a young age, it is never questioned or undermined for that person's entire lifespan. One primary reason for this failure to recognize the illusory nature of physical phenomena is the ignorance of varying degrees of consciousness. Stanislov Grof, a psychiatrist at the California Institute of Integral Studies, writes that the primary cause for modern society's dehumanization of the dying process (as opposed to ancient civilizations) is our ignorance of and unfamiliarity with "non-ordinary states of consciousness" (what he calls NOSC). Grof writes that in most cultures which predate the modern Westernized world in which we live it was common practice to utilize various substance like ergot (similar in chemical makeup to LSD) or meditation and breathing techniques to explore non-ordinary states of consciousness. In these civilizations, he says, NOSC was accepted and practiced by the community as a way to access spiritual realms, heal illnesses, and develop extrasensory perception. These people had a fundamentally different relationship with reality than modern Westerners, and this allowed them to take seriously the prospects of consciousness existing after death and before birth (Grof 5).

So an important and very critical question arises here: if we consider that consciousness can exist before the birth and after the death of the body, then what is the relationship of the human brain to consciousness? After all, most scientific thought maintains that consciousness is a byproduct of the neural activity in the brain. When different states of consciousness are experience, this is because the neurochemical activity in the brain has changed for whatever reason, and this is what causes the altered experience. However, what if this notion is backwards? In the field of neuroscience, Marcia-Koztowska writes that many researchers are looking into the idea of a nonlocal field of consciousness which channels itself through the brains of individuals (Marcia-Koztowska 384).

So, what if consciousness is a formless, infinite field that channels itself through biological brains to produce rich experiences, and through other molecular structures to produce more mundane experiences? In an article written for the journal Theological Studies, Mark Pretorius addresses this question. Pretorius is a researcher in the Department of Dogmatics and Christian Ethics at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. He identifies as a Charismatic Christian. In his article, Pretorius claims that, through evolutionary processes, neural networks produce brains which then produce consciousness. Once consciousness is active, he writes, God may incite spiritual consciousness in an individual (Pretorius 6). So this view opens the discussion even further, as Pretorius thinks there is a difference between God, consciousness, and spiritual consciousness.

Another alternative view which does not quite mesh with idealism but does subvert the rigidity of materialism comes from theoretical physicist Jacob Bekenstein, who worked as a professor of physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1990. Even from a scientific point of view, writing for Scientific American, Jacob Bekenstein proposes that a "theory called the holographic principle holds that the universe is like a hologram . . . . Our seemingly three-dimensional universe could be completely equivalent to alternative quantum fields and physical laws 'painted' on a distant, vast surface" (Bekenstein 60). Bekenstein also writes about how our 3-D universe is similar to a hologram which only seems 3-D but is actually rendered from a 2-D source (Bekenstein 65). With regard to considering the origins of the universe, this has serious implications for modern scientific thinking. If the universe is ultimately not made of physical particles but is rather a vast hologram, then there is nothing behind the scenes, so to speak, which governs the behavior of particles, molecules, and organisms. Even the mathematical laws of nature are suspect. If the universe is basically like software without any hardware, then the mathematical equations which many esteemed academics hold as the unchangeable code by which everything is run are really not as fundamental as they may think. On this view, even though the hologram of physical reality may fall into certain patterns, those patterns are still subject to change, given enough time (Bekenstein 65). Perhaps even such sacred constants as the speed of light and the golden ratio are not so constant as we have come to believe.

Whether it is God or consciousness or simply nothingness which potentially transcends birth and death, the importance of these considerations are that they undermine what many people value in life: career, success, greatness, progress, family, friends, love, saving the world, money, sex, food, security, power, social status, sensory stimulation, entertainment, or even relief from pain. All of these values only make sense if the world actually is physical and humans are fundamentally their bodies and minds. All of these values are an effort to make every appearance pleasant as opposed to unpleasant. But why try to control appearances when they are ultimately not real? Again, all appearances, whether pleasant or unpleasant, only have one place to appear: the screen of consciousness. This is the only thing that never changes throughout every single circumstance of life. (Now, serious spiritual practitioners or psychonauts who utilize psychedelics might reach a point where they go beyond consciousness and "experience" the non-experience of The Absolute, but that is beyond the scope of this discussion.)

So, for most people, if the background of awareness is the only true constant, then why not make that your main value instead of placing so much emphasis on things that are constantly changing and can never be held onto anyway? . In the Cross Currents magazine, Emile Farge writes about how the ego is an artificial way of defining any identity that people create which has some sort of purpose or, more deeply, anything that has limitations: to function at a job, to serve a biological desire, to quell an emotion, to align with societal habits, to identify an object as being separate from another object, etc. (Farge 55). A person might spend years building an identity around being a good employee, learning everything about their company, mastering the particular skills for their role, training new workers, and taking great pride in the whole endeavor, but what happens when they face the final years of their life and have to cope with death? They will have to let go of their entire identity as an exceptional employee along with whatever other things they identified with over their lifetime such as family, religion, nation, race, gender, schools of thought, organizations, cultural movements, personalities, habitual thought patterns, passions, and lifestyles, and they will finally have to let go of their body as it dies and decays. This process can be ridden with anxiety and restlessness if this person held their identification as rigid definitions of what they truly were. Or, the process can be very peaceful if this person had learned to let go of all their identifications and make a point of consistently placing their attention on that one "thing" (or "non-thing") which never changes: attention itself-the present moment.

Aside from Grof's notion that an ignorance of non-ordinary states of consciousness is a crucial reason why people tend to think of reality as physical, I would also add fear of emptiness to that list. Experiencing non-ordinary states of consciousness or just becoming attuned to the background of consciousness as opposed to being lost in thought all the time does take some conscious intention. Many people will probably not make the intention to acknowledge the background of awareness throughout their everyday lives because they cannot stand sitting and doing nothing or just being unoccupied for any length of time. Whether people are perpetually distracted by social media and their phones, or engaged in pursuing success or love, there simply are not many gaps in the continuous engagement of their attention. People constantly direct their attention outward at the world and thoughts, and there is never any time for attention to be directed inward.

The idea of "wasting one's life" comes into play here. The notion that people should be afraid of wasting their lives away and should therefore be regularly engaged in meaningful activity has a lot of influence here. I would argue that this is just a more sophisticated form of chasing pleasure and avoiding pain. Whether you run away from "wasting your life" and run toward "building a meaningful life," either way, you are going to encounter appearances on the screen of consciousness. And the main way to realize the truth of reality is to ignore appearances and just let them be, and direct the attention inward toward the screen of consciousness. Chasing pleasure and avoiding pain-chasing a meaningful life and avoiding a wasted one-is just a way of manipulating appearances which are ultimately illusory. It's just rearranging chairs on the Titanic. Life can never be wasted because there is a difference between life and life circumstances. Life, or the essence of one's being, is simply consciousness in the present moment. Life circumstances are superficial. Conversely, the only thing you can ever do with life is to waste it. It depends on how you want to label it, but the label is ultimately unreal. The only real thing is that regardless of life circumstances, all life is locked in the present moment. Everything in life is going to disappear anyway, so instead of constantly trying to make it the way you like it, it is wiser to drop any preferences you have, simply observe what's going on, and experientially realize the true nature of reality.

And a powerful way to do this is to consider that your brain is not producing a temporary consciousness, but that an infinite, eternal field of consciousness is temporarily expressing itself through your brain. To quote famous physicist Max Planck for whom the Planck constant was named, "I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness."
Hetav Pandya 7 / 15 4  
Sep 28, 2018   #2
"When different states of consciousness are experience" - Grammatical error
" He identifies as a" ??, I believe there is something missing in the Pretorius paragraph
" Max Plank for after whom"
I don't have words to thank you for the knowledge you gave me. Keep posting such mind-blowing works.

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